It's usually quite easy to spot a scam. You can tell almost immediately because they ask for money.
A real publisher or agent will never ask for money (they pay you).
Some typical scams are:Charging a "reading fee"
This is when the agent or publisher tells you they would like to read your manuscript, but will have to charge a "small" fee to cover their time reading it. Reputable agents and editors do NOT charge reading fees. In fact, charging a reading fee is against the rules of The Association of Author's Representatives.Charging printing fees
Some scam publishers will tell you they like your book and want to publish it, but it being a risky business and all, they can't take the chance. But, the publisher believes so much in your book that, just maybe, he can convince his boss to publish it if someone (the author) would cover the up-front printing costs, therefore minimizing the risks to the publisher. Of course, the author will be reimbursed this money as soon as the book begins to sell. It's a LIE. Don't believe it. They have no intention of selling the book.Contests
which charge an entry fee should be avoided.
Some contests are free, but are just a way to get you in the door. For instance, a company can run a contest for poetry or short-stories, then they print all entries into an anthology book and offer to sell the book to you. There sole intention is to sell those books, and they can care less who wins the contest or why.
Does this mean you should avoid all contests? Of course not. But you should research them first.Editing Services
Some of these scammer agents will tell you your book has a lot of promise and they would happily take you on as a client, but there are just a few little edits that should be made first. It just so happens that they have their own editing staff or can refer you to an editor. Of course this service is not free. The scam is that they have no intention of selling your book, they are only after the editing fee.Posting Manuscripts
This one is starting to get more prominent. An online service which claims that by posting your manuscript on their site that agents will read it. Sorry, won't happen. Agents get enough queries without having to go looking for more. They will not browse websites looking for manuscripts. Sites that offer this service (especially the ones that charge for it) are not doing a thing for you, and may even be hurting you because there are some agents who refuse to represent works which have been previously published (including online).
So, does the Showcase feature of QueryTracker fit into this category? No, because you are not displaying the complete work, only samples, and the showcase is not publicly accessible. Plus, you are not posting in the showcase in hopes that some agent will stumble upon it. You are still querying agents in the standard manner, the showcase is just a way for the agent to get more information should he/she want it.Interminable Clause
If you do sign with an agent, check for a "Interminable Clause." Normally an agent contract will specify that the agent represents your book just for the duration of the contract which he/she negotiates with the publisher. But the Interminable Clause means that the agent represents the book (and therefore is entitled to a percentage of your royalties) for the life of the book's copyright. This is another no-no according to the The Association of Author's Representatives. Do not sign such a contract.
Some good rules to follow http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/pubwarn.htm
Here are some good links to scammer lists:http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/peala.htmhttp://sfwa.org/beware/general.htmlhttp://www.nwu.org/nwu/index.php?cmd=showPage&page_id=126.96.36.199
Just be careful.
Some pointers from Dave Kuzminski, developer of Preditors and Editors
You might want to create a topic, though, that guides writers through a simple list which many of you can add to since we all tend to overlook simple things that often are done without thinking. For instance, one item might be that writers should never throw away emails from the agents/editor-publishers/editing services they might contact and should always make a copy of their own. A lot of email programs permit stashing those in special folders that should maintain the hidden headers. Then it should be possible for most email programs to have those transferred back to the active inbox for forwarding should a problem emerge.
Same goes for any papers (contracts, for instance) sent through the mail. Make a copy by scanning it. Be sure to use a setting that creates a small file. Don't let it default to BMP as those are often huge. Then if someone at another location needs to refer to something that was on paper, it's a simple matter of attaching the scanned document file to your email.
Unless absolutely necessary, never make decisions about your writing over the phone. Use email as much as possible because it creates a document that will stand up in court. Remember those hidden headers? Now you know one of the several reasons why you want to preserve those. Now this is not to say that all decisions can't be made over the phone. Remember, we're talking about acceptances and pricing decisions. It's quite another thing to discuss the wording in a paragraph prior to sending the proof to printing or other similar non-critical decision problems. Non-critical meaning it doesn't apply to the contract issues that could hurt you.
Another reason for email is most people will not send an email with a deliberate insult in it that might be used against them in court. So email tends to protect you by discouraging you from putting down something that you know could come back to haunt you. Yes, I know that some folks aren't discouraged by anything.
Also, there are some known scammers out there who want to conduct business over the phone for several reasons. Phone calls avoid creating documentation. They can use any phone recordings against you because there are states that prohibit recording conversations without giving notice to both parties. You might win in court, but you could lose everything you gained by having the state fine you and possibly even incarcerate you.
Anyway, this is a start. More will occur to me later. I'm sure others can add onto this list so that a well-balanced guide of how to protect yourself against later problems will be available to writers.
Never let anyone rush you. If they state they need a decision right then, odds are they're trying to stampede you into a wrong decision for your interests. That's another reason why scammers like to talk to you on the phone. Many of them are confidence men (or women) whose voices just exude a feeling of being on your side. When they're restricted to email, they lose one of their weapons of persuasion. Also, it's easier for you to notice when they're avoiding your questions when their answers are written down.